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OPINION: Health departments clamp down on free food

OPINION: Health departments clamp down on free food

Note: Former RV Daily Report Editor Greg Gerber is filling in for current editor Ronnie Garrett for the next week as she celebrates her wedding.

By Greg Gerber

Flush with cash from a roaring economy and having already solved the low-hanging-fruit problems of homelessness, crime, and affordable health care for its residents, local governments are finally zeroing in on truly egregious issues impacting their communities.

A story this week in the San Diego Union-Tribune notes that the county government is cracking down on businesses that serve fresh popcorn and free coffee on their premises. I have heard this story before in other places around the country. The San Diego crackdown is the latest iteration.

County health officials, which have already put an end to the childhood traditions of operating disease-infested lemonade stands, now believe that businesses offering popcorn need to be licensed as restaurants – complete with three-basin sinks to sterilize equipment after every use.

Businesses that serve free coffee are also told they need to upgrade their ventilation equipment, in addition to undergoing annual health inspections to ensure compliance with food safety preparation and storage regulations. They must also post a current inspection certificate in the front window of the business.

Ignore the fact that there has not been one reported case of food poisoning from free coffee or free popcorn; it’s the possibility that it could happen that has local officials sniffing out free food everywhere.

A few years ago in Wisconsin, county health officials shut down a popular annual chili cook-off competition because participants did not use commercial kitchens to prepare the concoctions, nor did they use approved hot storage systems to keep it warm.

No, putting six unplugged, lidded crockpots in the back of the car for a 20-minute drive was insufficient to prevent contamination. Worse yet, starting a fire and preparing the chili in the open air was not allowed either.

Schools nationwide have put an end to mom or grandma baking homemade treats for a birthday boy or girl to share with classmates. After all, there is a possibility the delicacy could offend someone on a nut-free, gluten-free, fat-free, flavor-free diet. It is also unlikely the food was prepared in a commercial kitchen by trained in proper food storage.

There is a campground in Washington that set up a grill area to serve up hotdogs and hamburgers on busy weekends – and had their plans approved by local officials before they opened the patio area. It was only after they spent tens of thousands of dollars to comply with the regulations that a new health inspector shut it down because the sink was too many steps away from the cooking area.

If all types of food must be prepared in commercial kitchens to ensure complete safety, I wonder why county health officials even allow non-commercial kitchens to be installed in homes and apartments.

Can you imagine the joyless existence for children living in the homes of county health inspectors?

“But, daddy, the water burns!”

“You know the rules, son. For proper dish washing, you must rinse the instrument in 180-degree water for 30 seconds.”

“Megan, get back into that bathroom and wash your hands completely. I’ve been timing you and there is no way you could have washed your hands up to your elbows with antibacterial soap and lathered for 40 seconds while singing happy birthday so you know you’ve washed long enough.

“Don’t forget, you must rinse in very hot water for 20 seconds and dry your hands completely with a paper towel. If you touch the doorknob on your way out, get back in there and do it again because you contaminated your hands.”

Other areas to target

Once county officials are finished purging free popcorn and coffee from businesses that don’t traditionally serve food, I’d like to suggest a few other enforcement areas for them to address:

Bathrooms at parks – Why is it that most county parks offering hiking trails or playgrounds don’t also have approved restrooms?

Where are people supposed to relieve themselves – especially children – when visiting these public places? Children are especially prone to needing to use the restroom IMMEDIATELY or within 120 seconds of arrival at a park (or three seconds upon arrival of hot food at restaurant table).

Community public parks must have the four required restrooms – men, women, family and gender-neutral – as well as proper hand-washing equipment. We certainly don’t want people peeing in the bushes.

Restroom attendants – Long ago, many fancy establishments employed attendants to pass towels to people after washing their hands. We need to bring them back.

Too many people, men especially, skip washing their hands after using the restroom. Businesses that are already required to post signs reminding dim-witted employees they must wash their hands after using the facilities should be required to hire someone to monitor compliance by employees and patrons.

Regulate pumpkin spice – Why is it that absolutely everything must come in pumpkin spice scent or flavor? There are pumpkin spice candles, coffee, cereal, perfume, cookies, and air fresheners. Last fall, I even saw pumpkin spice scented toilet paper.

If regulation is required to mitigate a 0.0000001 percent chance someone could get ill by eating free popcorn or drinking free coffee, surely something should be done for those of us in the 0.0003 percent group that get nauseated smelling pumpkin spice products everywhere we go.

Dealers and campgrounds would be wise to check with local health officials to see if they are allowed to serve free popcorn, coffee, hot dogs, water or even dog treats at their establishments without being licensed as restaurants. In 21st Century America, we can never be too careful, can we?

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About Greg Gerber

Greg Gerber is a freelance writer and podcaster who has been writing about the RV industry since 2000. He is the former editor of RV Daily Report.

5 comments

  1. One would hope that the elected officials would be there to help the constituents, not impede them! You and I grew up playing outside, ‘eating dirt’, and enjoying life, and somehow, without government interference, we survived to old age! I’m so sick and tired of these folks tackling things that they know nothing about, and yet not doing somthing about problems that they could help resolve! Ok, done with the rant!

  2. Welcome back Greg, I enjoyed every sentence of this.

  3. Something to think about! Your going to a restaurant, you sit down, pick-up the menu (obviously touched by others), order a hamburger and fries, order comes, use salt and pepper shaker (obviously used by others), eat hamburger and fries with hands (yum, the hands that touched menu and salt and pepper shaker and may be the restroom door) Remember (or maybe not) how many others touched the restroom door handle that was obviously used by others. Now you dip into billfold/purse and pull out credit card/cash that has been handled by obviously others. And then you put your change and/or credit card back into your possession that was last but most likely handled by the waiter. Order Please…..

  4. Mike Martinkus

    Nice rant my friend. Glad to see your typing fingers are still attached to your inquisitive noggin.

  5. Greg,
    My god its good to read you again! Righto on this topic, man they have too much time on their hands dont they! Good Read.

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